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Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Companies flock to internet filtering
The business of corporate cyber snooping is getting ever more serious.

Imagine the following scenarios:

  • Web-based e-mail services, such as or are mysteriously unavailable.

  • The Big Brother webcam triggers an alarm bell with your IT Manager who sits downstairs and could report you to the company bigwig.

    Research reveals that...
    Nine out of ten employees using the internet at work think that it is addictive

  • The unobtrusive BBC News Online cricket scorecard that sits quietly in the corner of your screen is blank, even though the match has already begun.

  • And online share trading - a sackable offence according to your contract - is immediately visible to your line manager.

  • Your are allowed two breaks each day when your machine magically drops its regulatory control and releases you into online freedom - for ten minutes at a time.

    Just how much more work would get done?

    Money down the drain

    Most IT managers and corporate internet users are convinced that monitoring and filtering procedures are an absolute necessity.

    This may not surprise too many people, with the dangers of online porn or race-hate sites widely acknowledged.

    But corporate attention is now turning away from morality issues and homing in on using internet filters to increase profitability.

    White collar employers are increasingly alarmed at just how much time is wasted surfing the internet each day.

    Censoring power

    And the result is a booming internet filtering industry.

    Companies such as the UK's SurfControl say the most common reason for businesses to use filtering software is to increase productivity of staff.
    Using the internet at work
    52% booking holidays
    41% research a hobby
    28% Online shopping
    27% Sport
    And a spate of recent research has confirmed the worst fears of suspicious employers.

    The majority of online shopping, personal e-mailing, and house-buying all take place during the nine-to-five working day.

    If 1,000 workers each spent an hour a day on the internet, that would cost an average company about $35m a year.

    To add insult to injury, job hunting was amongst the most enticing activity for an extended period of cyber slacking.

    By way of an excuse, nine out of ten employees said that that the internet was addictive in a recent survey.

    Booming industry

    All this may be bad news for both employers and employees, but it is creating a very healthy business for those selling the available software.

    IDC predicts that the filtering market will grow by close to 50% per year, reaching $636m (449m) world-wide by 2004.

    There are now more than 30 different companies offering filtering technology, mainly US-centric, but eager to cash in on the growing demand in Europe, especially the UK and Germany.

    The depth of the services on offer are mind-blowing, with companies now able to set different rules for each different user in a company of 10,000 people.

    Employers can chose to veto certain categories of sites ranging from finance and investment sites to dating agencies and estate agents.

    And access to each different category of website can be made available on a certain day for a minimum or maximum amount of time.

    Legitimate snooping reasons

    Companies employing snooping software cite valid reasons in addition to squeezing more work out of staff.

    Firms can end up being sued if employees are free to download and distribute offensive material in the office.

    But unions argue that the feeling of being watched and monitored is unlikely to create good company morale and contented staff.

    The best advice is to find out the exact details of your company's policy about personal internet or e-mail use.

    Preferably before you get to the end of this article.

  • See also:

    17 Jul 02 | Business
    17 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
    26 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
    12 Jun 02 | Politics
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